So last time we went south out of Kona to see windswept scenery and volcanoes. This time we’ll be going north to some of finest beaches in the islands.
We are still basing at our condo south of Kona. There is no good beach there, just a lot of lava rock, but the sea is pretty none-the-less. Somebody cut steps down and a few hardy souls take an ocean swim every day. I prefer sand.
Kona is on the west side of the big island, and the considerable bulk of the two large volcanoes, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa keep the rainy weather on the east side of the island. The result is spectacular. The west coast is sunny and warm all the time and sheltered from big surf in all seasons. Some of the best beaches in the Hawaii are here.
When asked, “What is the biggest mountain on earth”, most would answer, “Mt. Everest”. Most would be wrong. Mt. Everest, at 29,029 ft., is indeed the highest place on earth, but it is not the biggest mountain. The island of Hawaii is a massive volcanic mountain extending from far below sea level to the summit of Mauna Kea. Mauna Kea’s summit is at 13,796 feet above sea level, but it extends about 19,700 feet below the water’s surface. Therefore, its total height is 33,500 feet, nearly a mile taller than Mount Everest.
If you really want to know, Olympus Mons on the planet Mars is way bigger than either of them. But we’re not likely to visit there today.
We will be getting to the summit of Mauna Kea a little later in the day, but first, a trip to Kona for some shopping at the Kona Farmer’s Market.
1. Kona Farmers Market
Right in the middle of town on Alii Drive is the Kona Farmers and Craft Market. I’m not much of a shopper, but I love flea markets. This is one of the best I’ve seen. Everything is from local farmers and artisans on the island. We got a bunch of fresh fruit, coconuts, pineapples, guavas, you-name-it. We tried making drinks out of all of them. My son Max and I got matching Hawaiian shirts. The market is open Wednesday through Sunday from 7 AM to 4 PM. Make sure you stop by here as it is a great place to get souvenirs.
Get something for a picnic lunch, because we’re off to the beach.
2. Kona to 69s Beach
Leaving Kona, you drive up HI-19 about 30 miles to the best beach on the island. On the way, you pass through some interesting scenery. Ancient lava flows from Mauna Kea came right through here on their way to the ocean. Miles and miles of black rock looking like something out of this world stretch beyond sight on both sides of the road. This is the only place I’ve ever seen graffiti with rocks. The natives collect white rocks that they arrange to form pictures or words on the black lava background. You are entertained as you drive by trying to read the messages. There’s not a lot of weather to disturb the messages, so some are decades old.
There are lots of nice beaches on the west side of the big island. Skip them all and go to this one. It’s real name is Waialea Beach, but everybody calls it after the mile marker on the highway which is 69s. Hapuna Beach is nearby, and is billed as one of the best beaches in the world. It is also one of the most crowded. This little beach is much less known and is maybe the nicest beach I’ve ever seen. You park in a cow field, and walk through the trees. Warm sand, blue sky and crystal clear water await. My wife liked this place so much we went back three times in the five days we spent on the big island. There are facilities and picnic tables, as well as shade under what looked like huge cypress trees.
Snorkeling here is excellent. The water is calm as the big surf is on the north and east shores.
You can spend hours here just sitting on the beach or swimming in the warm clear water. Or you can shovel snow. Wait, there’s no snow around here….just wait.
3. 69s Beach to Mauna Kea
I love stuff like this. You leave the beach, drive about 50 miles and you’re on top of the world. As you look inland from the coast, you can’t get a feel for how big Maua Kea is. It rises very gradually over tens of miles so you don’t get a dramatic sense of elevation change. That will soon change.
Leaving the beach, you continue up HI-19 to Waimea. This is a pretty decent sized town. Stop here and eat as the pickings get pretty slim east of here. Just east of Waimea, take HI-190 going south. After seven miles, take HI-200 east toward Hilo and begin climbing. After about 25 miles, look for the road to Mauna Kea turning left.
The park has a very nice visitor’s area that is quite a ways up. All kinds of cool plants grow here and nowhere else. There are all kinds of warning signs telling you not to take your rental car to the top. What other reason is there to get a rental car than to beat it? So up we went. The view from the road was spectacular.
At the summit, there is nothing. No trees, no plants, nothing. There is also very little air. That’s why they build the observatories there. There is also snow here and you can ski. They have about the same annual snowfall and ski season as Aspen. When we were there, it wasn’t so bad.
4. Back to Kona
Gas in Hawaii is about twice as expensive as in the continental US. So it is nice that you can pretty much coast downhill to get back to Kona. This trip was a bit more leisurely than the southward trip, but still some unbelievable sights. And no Green Sand Beach!
There are other nice beaches on the Kona coast, but we just went back to 69s. It is just a magical place.
You’ve covered about 152 miles and probably voided your rental car agreement. Oh yeah, I forgot about the “sand clause”. Sounds like a bad Marx Brothers routine. All the car companies have this fine print that says if you return their car with sand in it, they will charge you some ungodly fee. They never say just what the limits might be. We went nuts looking for a place to vacuum the car before we took it back. That car was cleaner than any car I’ve ever owned. The guy at the rental place never even looked at it. So beware of this.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this day. I think any day you spend on Hawaii will be an enjoyable one.
Daytripping with Rick